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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

David Soul, a star of the hit cop show ‘Starsky & Hutch,’ dies at 80

David Soul, left, and Paul Michael Glaser in “Starsky & Hutch” in 1975 (Wikipedia)

By Alex Williams

David Soul, the doleful-eyed blond actor and singer who rose to fame portraying half of a cagey crime-fighting duo on the hit 1970s television show “Starsky & Hutch” and scored a No. 1 hit single in 1977 with “Don’t Give Up on Us,” died Thursday. He was 80.

His death was confirmed in a statement by his wife, Helen Snell, who did not specify a cause or say where he died. He had been living in Britain since 1995 and became a British citizen in 2004.

A Chicago-born son of a Lutheran minister, Soul had spent nearly a decade appearing on television shows like “Star Trek” and “I Dream of Jeannie”; he also had a regular role on the ABC Western comedy series “Here Come the Brides” before he won his career-defining role of Detective Ken Hutchinson, known as Hutch, also on ABC. The part would make him a regular presence in American living rooms, as well as a recognized heartthrob, from 1975 to 1979.

As Hutch, Soul played the coolheaded Midwestern sidekick to Detective Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser), a savvy Brooklynite given to wearing chunky cardigan sweaters. The two tooled around the fictional Southern California burg of Bay City in a red Ford Gran Torino emblazoned with a giant Nike-esque swoosh running down each side as they cracked open cases with the help of their streetwise informant, Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas).

Soul had first caught the eye of the show’s creators with an icy performance as a vigilante motorcycle cop in “Magnum Force” (1973), the first of several sequels to the hit 1971 Clint Eastwood film “Dirty Harry.” But he initially had misgivings about the Hutch character, seeing him as nothing more than “bland white-bread,” as he said in the 2004 television documentary “He’s Starsky, I’m Hutch.”

“I didn’t like him,” he said. “I wanted to play Starsky.”

Even as old-school tough guys with badges, the characters stood out on the 1970s cop show landscape by sharing an on-screen emotional intimacy that was striking for its day.

While being interviewed by talk show host Merv Griffin, who pointed out that TV Guide had singled out “Starsky & Hutch” as television’s most violent show, Soul responded, “My opinion of the show is that it’s a love story. It’s a love story between two men who happen to be cops.”

In an interview for The New York Post’s Page Six feature in 2021, Glaser said that he and Soul had kidded about the show’s homoerotic undertones “all the time.”

With his place in the pop culture firmament cemented, Soul was able to make good on his long-simmering ambitions to be a pop star.

In 1977, the year after releasing his debut album, he shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with the lachrymose ballad “Don’t Give Up on Us.” Many years later, Owen Wilson, as Hutch, parodied the song in none-too-loving fashion in a 2004 feature-film comedy version of the show, which also starred Ben Stiller as Starsky and Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear.

Soul, who often said that music was his priority over acting, released five albums in his career and notched four Top 10 hits in Britain in the 1970s, including “Don’t Give Up on Us,” which climbed to No. 1; “Silver Lady,” which also went to No. 1, although it reached only No. 52 in the United States; and “Going in With My Eyes Open” — No. 2 in Britain and No. 54 on the American chart.

He became enough of a singing sensation that, in reviewing a 1977 concert of his at Radio City Music Hall, Robert Palmer of The New York Times described “camera-wielding teenage girls charging the stage, the flicker of hundreds of exploding flash cubes and a continual squealing.”

Soul was born David Richard Solberg on Aug. 28, 1943, to Richard Solberg, a professor of political science and history as well as a theologian, and June (Nelson) Solberg, a teacher.

In David’s youth, the family lived in Cold War-era Berlin as well as in South Dakota. He aspired to be a diplomat or a minister before turning his sights on a show business career. In his late teens, he learned that his girlfriend, Mim, was pregnant; under parental pressure, they married.

Later, when he was 22, he found his wife with another man, a friend of his, and left her and their young son, Kristofer, to chase his dreams of stardom in New York.

Once there, he whittled his surname down to Soul and, looking for a gimmick to boost his singing career, bought a $1 ski mask and rebranded himself as a mystery-shrouded pop crooner who never showed his face. After appearances on Merv Griffin’s show, he secured a deal with MGM Records and released a single, “The Covered Man,” in 1966.

Once he tried to make it without the mask, however, his career faltered. Broke, Soul started selling himself sexually. “I was green,” he said in the documentary. “I was a kind of ‘Midnight Cowboy,’” a reference to the Oscar-winning 1969 film starring Jon Voight as a Texas dreamer turned Times Square hustler.

Discouraged by the fizzling of his music career, Soul shifted to acting, breaking into Hollywood with an appearance on “Flipper,” the series centered on a pet dolphin.

Once he made it big with “Starsky & Hutch,” he said, he spiraled into alcoholism before rediscovering religion in the 1980s. He met Snell, a public relations executive, in 2002, and they married in 2010.

It was his fifth marriage. He had five sons and a daughter. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

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